Wellness and the Workplace

A new study finds that participants in a two-and-a-half day program retained benefits six months later

The concept of workplace wellness programs is relatively straightforward: healthy employees are productive employees. While these programs traditionally focus on physical health, psychological health is important for productivity, too. Research evaluating the mental health benefits of such programs is scarce, but a recent Tufts study found that participation in one workplace wellness program was indeed effective in improving employee energy levels and psychological well-being.

The study by researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts found that employees who completed the program reported improved energy, quality of life, purpose in life, and sleep after six months. The study was published recently in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Tufts researchers, in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Health and Wellness Solutions, randomly assigned eight worksites, with a total of 163 participants, to take part in an intensive two-and-a-half-day workshop that integrated psychology, exercise, and nutrition to promote lifelong health behavior change. The program, offered by Human Performance Institute®, focused on improving wellbeing, with the primary aim of enhancing energy and purpose—or direction—in life.

Participants learned ways to increase energy levels, including eating and exercising for optimal energy and creation of short- and long-term goals. Participants’ physical and mental health were assessed before the program and six months afterwards. Researchers looked at the change in these measures compared to a control group of seventy-seven participants at four other worksites, who were waitlisted for the program and did not receive the workshop.

“Our study shows that this workplace wellness program is a brief but effective approach to improving employee well-being,” said lead author Sai Krupa Das, a scientist in the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the HNRCA and an assistant professor at the Friedman School. “These wellness programs may be used not only to enhance employee psychological well-being, but also in combination with other programs aimed at issues such as chronic disease and weight management.”

Given that full-time employees spend some 35 percent of their waking hours at work, it makes sense that psychological and physical well-being should be a priority for employers. “The workplace is a promising venue to improve the health and quality of life of Americans, as it promotes a supportive culture of shared experiences,” she said. “These employer-initiated programs are something employees can enjoy together.”

While the improvements in well-being after six months are encouraging, researchers are also interested in how the behavioral changes are sustained over time. Das said that researchers followed up with the participants twelve and eighteen months after completing the program, and are examining whether the program had long-lasting effects on mental and physical health.

Erin Lewis can be reached at erin.lewis@tufts.edu.

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